Derived from the Latin carpentarius, meaning “maker of a carriage”, carpentry has an exceptionally long human history. As an occupation concerned with the building or maintaining of wooden structures, it has developed a significant repertoire of tools, ranging from entirely generalized to hyper-specialized.
If you’ve been considering diving into the wonderful world of woodworking, there are a handful of tools that are absolutely essential for even the most basic of projects. From there, you’ll want to expand your selection to include tools that are more limited in their scope, but with greater specificity to your desired projects.
Essential Carpentry Tools List
What follows is a list of what we consider to be the essential tools for carpentry, handily divided into sections based on hand tools, power tools, accessories, storage, and safety equipment. While not every one of these tools will be required for every job, this list will provide a comprehensive guide to tools that have no replacement in their functionality.
Because carpentry is such a broad field of study, with many possible projects and outcomes depending on your skill level, choosing only the tools that you’re most in need of for a project you have in mind is the best way to go. That way, you can continue to collect tools that are appropriate both to your desires, and your carpentry skill level. Before you know it, you’ll have a fine set of tools and the know-how to put them to good use!
1. Claw Hammer
One of the most basic tools of the carpentry trade, a claw hammer will allow you to drive nails with one end and remove them with the other. Look for one that has a comfortable but secure grip and is not too heavy to hold and swing.
2. Tape Measure
Plastic measuring tapes are cheap and simple but tend to stretch and lose accuracy over time. Go for a metal measuring tape, preferably a retractable model that’s good for measuring larger pieces of uncut lumber.
3. Measuring Squares
Any tool also known as a “carpenter’s square” must be essential, right? That’s absolutely true for measuring squares, as they’ll allow you to identify, measure, and mark right angles during your projects.
Great for hand-carving or lathe turning, chisels were once the primary tool for carving out joints in Japanese carpentry. Often sold in sets, you’ll need a variety of chisels to perform any meaningful or detailed work.
A wooden mallet is complementary to a chisel set, allowing you to precisely drive the sharp heads into your workpiece. Rubber mallets are useful in putting together joints and will not damage wood when tapped with light to medium force.
The workhorse of hand tool carpentry, handsaws are used to rip and crosscut boards to size. Look for blades that are taper ground, allowing better clearance around the teeth and a smoother, more efficient cutting motion.
Designed with thin blades and finely set teeth, backsaws are the detail-oriented companion to the handsaw. Supported by a heavy strip of brass or steel over the top of the blade, they excel at detail work and can be used to cut mortise and tenon or dovetail joints.
8. Curve Cutting Saw
Bow Saws, scroll saws, coping saws, and compass saws all fall into this category, often reserved for decorative work. Until you have a project that calls for curved cuts, you won’t need any of these saws. When you’re ready to tackle more intricate designs, however, there is no substitute for these tools.
Used to smooth wooden surfaces while gradually reducing their thickness, planes are a complex and multi-part hand tool with something of a cult following in the classical carpentry community. A good bench plane will get you through 90% of projects, while rabbet and block planes are reserved for more specialized angled work.
10. Sharpening Stone
Keeping your chisels, gouges, and planes sharp is essential to their safe and appropriate functioning. Oil Stones are the most popular choice in the United States, while a two-part water stone is more common for Japanese hand tools.
While not technically a hand tool, a motorized bench grinder is used almost solely in the refinishing of hand tools like chisels gouges. Chipped or worn blades can often be refurbished through the combination of a few times through a grinder and finishing with a sharpening stone.
12. Hand Drill
Though power drills have become a much more popular option, hand drills offer quiet and convenience instead of speed and intensity. With the proper set of drill bits, a hand drill can be every bit as effective as a power drill in preparing high-quality workpieces.
First and foremost, when using a screwdriver, the tip must fit the size of the screw slot in question. Therefore, you’ll need screwdrivers in a range of sizes to accommodate whatever size of screw you come up against in your projects.
You can rarely have too many clamps in a woodworking shop, and a wide selection of bar clamps, miter clamps, and C-clamps will always hold you in good stead when you need an “extra hand”. Good clamps can be expensive, so consider renting extra sets for especially large projects.
15. Power Drill
The most widely sold and often used power tool on the market, a power drill is useful not only for carpentry projects but also for general household repairs and maintenance. Cordless power drills offer excellent versatility and ease of use as long as you can remember to put their batteries back on the charger when you’re done.
Also known as a saber saw, these versatile and inexpensive power tools do a fine job of cutting boards to a rough size but can’t be relied on for straight cuts. Instead, use them for curved cuts and quick projects where precision is not key.
17. Circular Saw
A rough and ready workhorse for carpentry in a woodshop or on a job site, the circular saw has become a staple of construction contractors everywhere. Thanks to advances in materials technology, you can now find lightweight and exceptionally powerful circular saws available for entirely reasonable prices.
Used for cutting grooves, curved figures, and joints, routers can easily replace a whole family of hand planes. Fixed routers are suspended above the workpiece and lowered into the cut as one unit, while plunge routers deploy only the cutting edge via spring-loaded columns.
Great for taking much of the time and effort out of finishing a piece of wood, even the finest of powered sanders will only get you partway there. Once you’ve progressed to a “finishing sander”, there will still be a short period of hand-sanding necessary to achieve a truly fine finish.
20. Biscuit Joiner
A particularly specialized saw and joiner combo, the biscuit joiner cuts a small section of wood out of the edge of a board to which glue and a “biscuit” of compressed wood are added. As the glue and wood expand to fill the small hole, a strong and durable joint is created.
21. Table Saw
The most central aspect of any woodworking shop, a table saw will be your most substantial investment for home woodworking. Traditional cabinet saws are large, heavy, and extremely accurate and efficient; more modern portable models allow you to take much of this utility with you to a job site.
22. Radial Arm Saw
Sometimes known as a chop saw, the radial arm saw is a quick and ready tool for making rips, crosscuts, bevels, or miter cuts on a job site or in your home workshop. While lacking some of the precision of a table saw, they are an indispensable tool for increasing efficiency in trim and molding work.
23. Band Saw
A continuous loop of metal driven between two wheels, the band saw always cuts downward – thereby eliminating the possibility of kickback on a workpiece. It performs many of the same functions of a radial arm saw (if somewhat less accurately) and can be used for curved cuts as well.
After purchasing a table or band saw for your home workshop, the planer might be the next most essential power tool. The best planers can be precisely adjusted to evenly smooth surfaces on all four sides of a workpiece, saving much time and effort when compared to using a hand plane.
An adjunct art form to carpentry’s many straight lines and right angles, incorporating a lathe into your workshop allows you to enter the world of turned pieces such as bowls, cups, and decorative table legs. You’ll need specialized turning tools to take full advantage of a lathe in your home workshop.
26. Universal Machine
When space is limited and you may not be able to fit many power tools into one woodshop, the universal machine is your answer. Combining the functions of a table saw, jointer, thickness planer, spindle shaper, and mortiser, it’s an all-in-one solution ideally suited to cramped workspaces.
27. Carpenter’s Pencil
Flat instead of round, the carpenter’s pencil is more versatile and accurate than a standard pencil in measuring precise markings for woodworking cuts. Next Level Carpentry covers how to sharpen a carpenter’s pencil here:
28. Extension Cords
If you own any power tools that are not cordless, chances are you will one day need an extension cord to get the most use out of them. Even extra-long extension cords are now available at a reasonable price, making them an easy addition to your carpentry toolkit.
29. Miter Box
A simple wooden jig used for cutting miter joints and square ends, you can also find them available in plastic or metal. Two raised sides and a groove in the middle allow you to slot your saw into predetermined angles to guide your cuts.
30. Bench Hook
Used for crosscutting short lengths of wood with a backsaw, the bench hook is primarily helpful as a safety measure. Readymade bench hooks are available, or you can make your own by attaching two blocks to a flat board.
31. Woodworking Vise
Attached to one end of a solidly built woodworking bench, a vise is incredibly helpful as an “extra hand” on any workpiece. European-style vises have wooden jaws, allowing a workpiece to be gripped without leaving any marks.
32. Dust Collection System
Whether you choose a shop vac for its portability and versatility or a dedicated dust collection system attached to your table saw, you’ll need something to make sure your work surfaces are free of dust. Aside from increasing accuracy and precision in your work, this will also keep your floors safer for walking on.
Tool Storage and Organization
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment in the entire woodshop, a woodworker’s bench needs to be sturdily constructed and fitted with stable vises. Most workbenches are between 32 and 34 inches high, but taller or shorter users can have tables custom sized. Look for a workbench with a hardwood worktop that is at least 2 inches thick.
Great for utilizing the vertical space in a workshop, a classic wooden pegboard with metal hooks will allow you to keep all your hand tools and accessories stored, organized, and easily recognizable.
35. Tool Belt
For work on the job site or around your house, nothing can replace a reliable leather tool belt. Precise specifications vary widely, but you should always look for one that has space for a hammer, measuring tape, and multiple pockets for screws, nails, and drill bits.
36. Scrap Bin
Wood scraps produced while you work on projects can come in handy later, so you should never throw them away. A small metal can is usually enough for casual carpenters, but more active woodworkers should go for a fairly large metal garbage bin.
37. Safety Glasses, Goggles, and/or Face Shield
No matter how experienced a carpenter is, it is never advisable to work without eye protection – particularly around power tools! Safety glasses are the minimum requirement, while goggles or a face shield will provide more complete coverage. All these accessories should be safety rated as completely shatterproof.
38. Hearing Protectors
Safety rated headphones are a smart addition to any workshop where you’ll be running power tools and come in equally handy on loud job sites. In-ear plugs are more convenient and less cumbersome but provide less total protection for your ears.
Unless you’ve equipped your workspace with a powerful dust collection system, chances are you’ll be producing a lot of particulate matter that will hang in the air. Over short periods, you may not notice any problem with this, but long-term inhalation of sawdust can cause serious breathing difficulties. Consider purchasing a respirator, or at least a safety-rated mask.
40. Hair Ties
Anyone with long hair should exercise caution around power tools, where any dangling hairs can quickly get caught up in motors and lead to dangerous situations. A stash of hair ties will prevent this danger from the start and is a cheap investment in workplace safety.
41. Push Stick
Repurpose a sturdy piece of scrap wood as a push stick, and you’ll be able to exercise much greater safety while operating a table saw.
The Importance of Safety Training
It should come as no surprise that a profession that works every day with sharp and fast-moving tools will have a high rate of accidents and injury. Even with increasing attention paid to workplace health and safety guidelines, some 20% of carpenters reported injuries to their hands and fingers each year.
Whether you’re pursuing carpentry as a hobby or a profession, the importance of safety training – and abiding by safety guidelines – cannot be understated. Steve Ramsey’s “Woodworking for Mere Mortals” provides an excellent introduction to workshop safety (below), but we also encourage you to actively seek out safety training on your own as well.
Care and Maintenance of Your Tool Set
Both hand tools and power tools require considerable care and maintenance to ensure that they’re not only efficient and effective but also safe and reliable.
For professional and amateur carpenters alike, getting into a routine of cleaning your tools at the end of each workday and returning them to a neat, organized location will go a long way towards making sure you’re aware of when they need extra attention.
For hand tools, keep a close watch on the sharpness of their blades as well as the stability of their handles; with power tools, inspect their cords or battery packs for signs of wear or damage, and listen closely while they’re in operation to take note of any changes that might indicate the motor wearing out.
A carpenter’s skill is only as good as the tool he uses for the job at hand, so at the first sign of anything amiss with your tools, consider taking them to a professional repair shop for service and advice.
There’s no doubt that carpentry offers a broad and deep field of experience to explore, and we hope that this list of essential carpentry tools has introduced you to the wide variety of possible solutions for all your woodworking projects. If you haven’t already, we recommend writing down and researching any potential projects you’d like to build; from there, you can use plans available online or in woodworking books to collect a list of necessary tools for the job.
Featured Image: Pxfuel
Pete has been working in the trades since high school, where he first developed a passion for woodworking. Over the years, he has developed a keen interest in a wide variety of DIY projects around the home. Fascinated by all sort of tools, Pete loves reading and writing about all the latest gadgets and accessories that hit the market. His other interests include astronomy, hiking, and fishing.
As the founder of House Grail, David’s primary goal is to help consumers make educated decisions about DIY projects at home, in the garage, and in the garden.
- 1 Essential Carpentry Tools List
- 2 Hand Tools
- 3 Power Tools
- 4 Accessories
- 5 Tool Storage and Organization
- 6 Safety Equipment
- 7 The Importance of Safety Training
- 8 Care and Maintenance of Your Tool Set
- 9 Conclusion